•Director of prosecution, Kohol, tries to arm-twist newspaper to ‘settle’
•Ozekhome, West-Idahosa, senior lawyers describe action as reckless attempt to intimidate media organisation
The Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) has bared its fangs and turned itself to an instrument of harassment against The Sun over publication of a Page 3 Girl photograph.
At the centre of the harassment is the commission’s Director of Prosecution, Mr. Abdul Ter Kohol, who is colluding with a complainant to intimidate the newspaper, with a view to coercing it into monetary settlement.
Since The Sun inadvertently published a Page 3 Girl photograph of one Miss Temitope Akinyemi on May 25, 2016, which was sent by a syndicate whose real motive was to implicate and extort money from the newspaper, the NCC, through Kohol, has not allowed The Sun and its managers any rest.
The Enforcement Department of the NCC had, sometime this year, invited Editor, Daily Sun, Mr. Onuoha Ukeh, to its Abuja headquarters, following a complaint by the said Miss Akinyemi, over publication of her photograph as a Page 3 Girl.
Honouring the invitation, the editor wrote a statement at the NCC.
Before The Sun editor honoured the NCC invitation, Kohol had exhibited an unusual overzealousness, by making a telephone call to the newspaper’s General Counsel, Barrister Obinna Kalu, and threatened that if the invitation was not honoured, he would use his position to get those invited arrested and prosecuted.
At the NCC office, when the editor honoured the invitation, in the company of the General Counsel and The Sun’s Abuja Bureau Chief, Kohol invited them to his office and pronounced The Sun guilty even before the case was investigated. He threatened to take the officers to court, except The Sun settled and compensated the complainant.
Investigations revealed that after the editor’s appearance at the NCC, the Enforcement Department investigated the matter and reported that following the circumstances the photograph was published and the enabling law, The Sun was not liable.
The Enforcement Department recommended that the NCC should not proceed with criminal prosecution of The Sun.
However, owing to his obvious vested interest in the case, Kohol ignored the Enforcement Department’s recommendation and filed a case against The Sun and joined the Managing Director, Mr. Eric Osagie in the suit even though he had nothing whatosever to do with the publication and Ukeh, in their personal capacities. The charges were later withdrawn.
Discovering that Kohol was colluding with Miss Akinyemi’s lawyers and thereby divulging official to them, The Sun petitioned the NCC Director-General, Mr. Afam Ezekude, and demanded Kohol’s investigation, over allegations of “unprofessional and gross misconduct in the discharge of his duty.”
In the petition, The Sun highlighted how the agency’s Director of Prosecution was leaking official information to complainant’s lawyer; for personal gains.
Kohol was accused of taking personal interest in the case and, therefore, went clearly out to intimidate, threaten and cajole The Sun to settle and compensate Miss Akinyemi, actions contrary to the expectation of someone holding his office.
The petition said: “As events unfold, we discovered that the Director of Prosecution was actually working in league with Miss Temitope Akinyemi’s lawyer, to extort money from our company (in the name of settlement), which will be later shared amongst them.
“In fact, the said prosecutor is instrumental and actively involved in the civil suit, which Miss Akinyemi eventually filed against the company. He supplies them with privileged official information arising from the criminal investigation, which he hijacked from the Enforcement Department because of his selfish interest.”
In the earlier case filed in Abuja, which was later withdrawn, the NCC accused The Sun, the MD and editor of violating the copyright Act, over the publication of Miss Akinyemi’s photograph.
The Sun, the MD and editor had sued the NCC seeking an order for the enforcement of their fundamental human rights.
In the suit filed by Dr. Ehiogie West-Idahosa, they asked the court for a declaration that “the continuous threat of arrest, detention and preferment of criminal charges against the 1st and 2nd applicants and other staff of the 3rd applicants issued against the applicants by the respondent orally and vide the respondent’s letters to the applicants dated 18/7/2016; 26/7/2016; and 9/11/2016, respectively, for an allegation of crime purportedly committed by one Daniel Ekiye, without the knowledge and authority of the applicant constitute a violation of the 1st applicant’s rights to personal liberty and freedom of movement, as guaranteed by Sections 34, 35(1) and 41(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and under Articles 6 and 12 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, (CAP 10) laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990 and therefore unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.”
The applicants also sought a declaration “restraining the respondent, its agents, privies and assigns from preferring any criminal charge against the Applicants on account of an allegation of crime not committed by them in violation of the Applicants fundamental human rights referred to in relief (1) above.”
Following the withdrawal of the NCC suit, the applicants had also withdrawn the enforcement of the fundamental human rights suit.
However, owing to his personal interest in the matter, Kohol has moved to file the case against The Sun, the MD and editor.
Sources at the NCC said whenever Kohol is personally interested in a case, he goes all out to pursue it; without recourse to other authorities.
They also alleged high-level corruption in the Prosecution Department of the NCC, saying that Kohol allegedly colludes with complainants to extort money from companies whose cases are before the commission.
One NCC personnel, who declined to be named, said corruption in the NCC Prosecution Department is so enormous that they have “lost confidence in Kohol.” The source said Kohol played a similar role he is playing in the Miss Akinyemi’s case in a copyright matter involving a telecommunication company from which huge sums of money was allegedly paid, which he shared with lawyers of the complainant.
Investigations revealed that Kohol and his cohorts joined The Sun MD and editor in the criminal prosecution case when The Sun is a legal entity that could be sued on its own, out of pure mischief and malice because they did not succumb to his threat and advice to pay Miss Akinyemi and her lawyers money as compensation.
Meanwhile, lawyers have faulted joining of The Sun MD and editor in the suit NCC filed against the newspaper.
In his reaction, Lagos human rights and constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, said joining of the MD and editor in the criminal case was “unacontionable, illegal, unlawful, wicked and unconstitutional.”
He also described it as “an attempt to intimidate and muzzle The Sun” and emphasised that it had long been decided in a suit, “Salomon Vs Salomon, that an individual cannot be charged in a case against a validly registered company. It is sheer madness. It is clearly meant to intimidate, coerce and muzzle the management of The Sun, for whatever reasons. This insanity cannot stand. It is an abuse of the court process.”
Counsel to The Sun, Dr Ehiogie West-Idahosa said Kohol has shown extreme bias and compromise in the handling of the case.
“What they are doing is unknown even to the NCC Act. It is arm-twisting tactics. But, it will fail miserably. It is unheard of, to attempt to criminalise officers of an organisation for purely corporate matter, assuming without conceding, that there’s any liability whatsoever. Kohol and his agents are trying to make mockery of the Judiciary and the laws of our country.”
Also, Chief Charles Enwelunta, Mr Dele Igbinedion, Mr. Gideon Okebu and Mr Ige Asimudara submitted that for the charge to be sustainable, the prosecutor must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendants intentionally and actually committed the offence.
They submitted that the charge is an abuse of court process, insisting that for it to fly, the ingredient of the crime must be established and the ingredients are intention and actual act.
They said the company’s officials are different from the company and they cannot be liable for any offence committed by the company, in a criminal case.
Igbinedion said: “It is misconception of law for a company’s officials to be charged with the company, for an offence allegedly committed by company. The company’s officials are only agents and if they are not personally involved in the commission of the offence, they cannot stand trial personally for an offence allegedly committed by another legal entity.”
Enwelunta also aligned himself with Igbinedion’s submission.
“He said: “Officials of a company and the company are two, different legal entities in eye of the law.
“Each entity cannot take responsibility for the action of each other. It is legally wrong for The Sun Publishing Ltd’s MD and its editor to be charged with the company for the offence allegedly committed by the company.”
A public Affairs analyst, Femi Ojo, on his part, said what people like Kohol and the NCC are doing will further damage the reputation and integrity of the Buhari government.
“If this is what has transpired, this man should be fired immediately from his job.
“It is people like him who give our dear president a bad name. How can a serious agency make the publication of a photograph its preoccupation, of all the important issues it has to deal with? They should stop embarrassing Mr. President.”
•More reports to follow on outrageous activities of Kohol and rot in NCC.